The Future of a Century-Old Flushing Synagogue

Souksavat Soukhaseum, the Free Synagogue of Flushing’s archivist and historian (Photo via New York Jewish Life)

In 1917, members of the Hebrew Women’s Aid Society of Flushing started the congregation of the Free Synagogue of Flushing in response to the growing Jewish community in the area. After World War I the population had gone up 700 percent in the Queens neighborhood prompting the synagogue to build and move into its current location – a larger, now-landmarked sanctuary – to accommodate the burgeoning congregation. But by 2000, after decades of a decline in the Jewish population in Flushing, less than 200 people remained in the congregation. These days, however, “the synagogue and its congregation are experiencing a renaissance,” writes Maxine Dovere in New York Jewish Life.

(…) Young families from Jackson Heights, Forest Hills and Sunnyside are rejuvenating the membership. A new rabbi, Yossi Zilberberg, began leading the synagogue in August 2017. A graduate of Hebrew Union College, he is an ordained Reform rabbi who wears a tallit (traditional prayer shawl) and kippa (skullcap). Brava calls the synagogue “nondenominational,” noting that while the synagogue is a member of the Union for Reform Judaism, “the rabbi is meeting the needs of the membership, which covers a range of Jewish practice.” The Hebrew school once again has students; currently, about 40 children attend.

Starting in 2014, Executive Director Alan Brava and Board President Edward Schauder changed the direction of the synagogue to make it sustainable. In addition to speaking to the two leaders, New York Jewish Life also sits down with Souksavat “Souks” Soukhaseum, a “Laotian-born Jew-by-choice” who has become the “shomar (guardian) of [the synagogue’s] history, with knowledge of every aspect of the congregation and its structures.”

Go to New York Jewish Life for more on the Free Synagogue of Flushing, as told by the three men.

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